20 July 2006 | Rebecca Ellinor
It will be impossible to introduce any form of ID card by 2008 without clear guidance from the government as to what is required.
That is the view of Nick Kalisperas, director of Intellect, the trade association for the UK hi-tech industry, which has been helping the Home Office conduct market soundings for the scheme. Following press reports that procurement for the scheme was facing delays, he told SM
he could not even guess how long it would take without more details from Whitehall.
"The current environment is one of rumour and counter-rumour," he said. We're looking for clarity and for suppliers to get a perspective on this. The government talks about a product being ready to launch by 2008 but we cannot do that at the moment. We need adequate time for testing and reliability checks."
The Home Office has reasserted its commitment to the "rapid introduction" of the cards. A spokesperson said: "We have always made clear that this is an incremental process. ID cards will be implemented in a phased way, starting with biometric residence permits for foreign nationals in 2008 and rolling out to UK nationals thereafter."
But Kalisperas said: "There's no point asserting a political deadline. We want the politics taken out of this procurement. We want good hard, commercial decisions based on a dialogue between customer and suppliers.
"We need a clear timetable for procurement: when government will issue an OJEU
notice, the nature of that procurement and how long it expects it to take."
It was originally thought that the central database, a core part of the scheme, would take two years to procure and two to build, but the procurement process is yet to begin.
Technology suppliers had expected the first tenders for the project to be issued in March, following the Identity Card Bill receiving Royal Assent, but that did not happen.
They had also expected a number of contracts - including those for a contact centre, document production, delivery and counter services - to be bundled together. But the Identity and Passport Service (IPS), established this year to provide passport services, the National Identity Scheme and ID cards, last month issued a separate tender notice only for the contact centre.
The latest episode over the scheme stemmed from a series of e-mails between Peter Smith, acting commercial director for the IPS, and David Foord, mission critical director for identity and defence at the Office of Government Commerce. These messages, which were published in the Sunday Times
on 9 July, revealed both senior officials had serious doubts about the project and whether it was possible to carry out dual procurements to include an "early variant" or simpler ID card while the full version is still being developed.